Rope is a play of the Victorian thriller genre written by Patrick Hamilton in 1929. The plot features two precocious Oxford University students who have been reading too much Nietzsche. They decide to commit the perfect motiveless murder, for the thrill of getting away with it as well as to prove some kind of half-baked philosophical argument for the absence of objective morality. They then decide to put the corpse in a chest in their living room and host a party for the victim’s friends and family around it.
Best Served Cold is an adaptation of Rope for modern times, replacing university students with two sisters struggling to make it in show business. Only this is not a motiveless murder. Together, sisters Bryony and Pip kill Cassie, a bully from their old acting school who has since become a successful actress, and host a party in her honour inviting all their old drama school friends to join. Everything goes accordingly, the play unravelling as a kind of comedy of manners with highly-strung director, Ruth, and egotistical starlet, Philippa, in particular getting laughs. That is, until the astute and unexpected guest, Miss Wilton – Cassie’s mother – arrives looking for her daughter. Cassie’s perfume and accessories (given to the party guests in goody bags) attract the attention of Miss Wilton’s beady eyes.
The script was written by seventeen-year-old Emer Dineen; it is witty and shows promise. At one point Pip says ‘Looks like it’s died down here’ to which Miss Wilton responds with ‘Who died down here?’ - this got a big laugh. It was also quite funny when Bryony and Pip started slapping each other, ironically to cover up for their strange and suspicious behaviour. The play shows great insight into friendships and how people break down under social pressures.
However, it is just too close in structure and plot to Rope to be seen as a piece in its own right and it doesn’t engage with the philosophical issues raised in Rope. It also lacks subtlety, although one feels that with writing experience Emer could produce something quite wonderful. The play would benefit from having fewer, but more fleshed-out characters. Another thing that might improve the performance would be having two party rooms instead of just the one, so there aren’t as many people on-stage all the time not really doing anything, which made the whole thing look rather more amateur than it was.
The piece was directed collaboratively by the girls. If they had had one authoritative director with a clear vision, some moments could have been more professionally controlled and tense. Instead of Pip bawling for instance, something more subtle could perhaps have worked better. Also, if Pip had been played for laughs as well as sympathy, it might have made for a more entertaining experience. There was an all-round problem with projection, which was exacerbated by the loud dinner party music playing throughout. Some aspects of the performance lacked conviction; the eruptions of laughter in particular looked unrealistic. Emer Dineen as the cold-hearted, mastermind killer Bryony and Emily Wylie as the astute Miss Wilton shone through. Emer seemed to really understand and enjoy her character and Emily was pitch-perfect, her movements and speech composed, and her stare chilling.
The playwright and cast show potential and should pursue their creative talents at next year’s Fringe, perhaps in two smaller productions, or a production where each character has his own distinct role in the play. In this case, it seemed that too many cooks had spoiled the broth.